Outrageous Internships

Jennifer Prosek  Follow

I’ve been outraged as I’ve read recent articles about unpaid internships.

First of all, I have always been aggressively against the idea of people working for free. I don’t think either party wins in this situation, never mind the fact that it’s illegal. But what I hadn’t really thought about until I read "The Internship Rip-Off" in a recent issue of The New York Times Magazine is how unfair unpaid internships are.

When you think about it, only those who are supported by parents with means can afford to take these positions, thereby giving a certain socioeconomic class an inside track and leg-up. The sad reality is that this contributes to a lack of diversity in many professions. As the article says, "it reserves those foot-in-the-door opportunities for people who can afford to go without a paycheck." What a terrible practice.

The reality rang home for me when a fellow agency owner told me, proudly, that they paid their interns $50 a week. I was outraged.

Our internship program is perhaps the most important feeder of talent into our firm and we take it very seriously. What I didn’t consider, however, is that even our internships, which pay competitively, probably still prohibit many students and recent graduates from disadvantaged backgrounds, given the high cost of living in New York City and Fairfield County in Connecticut. Perhaps it’s time to think about a scholarship-style program for interns on tuition assistance.

A big thank you to Ariel Kaminer for opening my eyes to the issues of internships and how employers across all industries must consider the unintended consequences of how they operate their programs. CJP

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